know when they've been burned, and the Batman franchise
surely did burn us, even if we pretend that last year's
Catwoman flare-up did
not happen. But a new dynamic duo have resurrected what
once was lost in neon and nipples. They do not wear capes.
They do not wear cowls. They do, however, have an understanding
of Batman, a desire to tell a story about him, and the talent
to do so well. Right upfront, we say thank you, Christopher
Nolan and David S. Goyer.
Batman Begins, these two have created something special.
It's not just the Batman movie fans didn't know they absolutely
needed; once upon a time, we were pretty pleased by Tim
Burton's vision. Though the past few years have brought
us some very good movie adaptations of comic book material,
Nolan and Goyer have raised the bar higher than we thought
possible. Sin City?
Hellboy? You have to
go into those with a state of mind. The upcoming Fantastic
Four could be a great movie, and it would still suck
doesn't just please the fans; it takes the extra step of
being so good that the average audience member just might
figure out what we've been raving about all this time.
screenwriter, Goyer redeems himself for Blade:
Trinity. Though Nolan collaborated on the screenplay,
it's clear that the utter love and respect for the character
comes from the Fanboy turned comic book writer. This is
the first Batman movie that has real depth; since Batman
aims to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, it only
makes sense to explore his own fears.
For years, The
Scarecrow had been bandied about as the villain for the
proposed "fifth" Batman film vaguely following Burton's
design. Goyer kept the character as a foil, but made it
absolutely necessary to the story he had to tell. Though
Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) leaves a strong impression,
he never overshadows Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Neither
does the film's other villain, R'as al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).
Again, integral to the plot, but this movie is about Batman,
not selling action figures. (Though, yes, they will be sold.)
Nolan jumps around a bit, revealing the bits and pieces
of Batman's origin in ways that no one has explored on film
before. In doing so, the mythos gets restored to the tragedy
that it should be.
us a few moments of young Bruce's pretty good home life,
Nolan makes us feel the loss of Thomas (Linus Roache) and
Martha Wayne (Sara Stewart). Goyer also structures it so
that we understand, perhaps for the first time, the loss
that Gotham City feels as a result of their deaths. Criminals
may fear the shadow of the bat, but Bruce Wayne agonizes
in the shadow of his father.
with the aimless young man he became, consumed with grief
and rage at the man who killed his parents. When mob boss
Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) denies him revenge, Wayne
disappears into an unfocused weapon. That is, until made
an offer by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) to
join The League of Shadows.
Whether or not
you consider Wayne's ultimate choice to be insane gets left
to you. Goyer and Nolan make a good case for it to be understandable
for him to become Batman. Without being jokey about it,
the movie also shows us the different opinions from Gothamites'
points of view.
the criminals don't wonder if he's sane or not. They just
wet themselves when they know he's around. Whenever the
film shifts to the underworld's perspective, Nolan treats
Batman Begins like a horror film. Something lurks
in the shadows, snatching thugs into the air, perhaps to
be eaten. If he talks to them, it's really the scream of
a hideous beast. The fight scenes are a blur, though well-directed,
because Batman is just that good.
Yet Nolan also
shows that Batman does this because he cares. Without slipping
into treacle, the director pauses to show the Dark Knight
not exactly bonding, but at least acknowledging that he
provides inspiration to a child. In a neat bit of turnabout
that doesn't feel forced, it's also clear that he does feel
friendship and loyalty toward Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) before
the last good cop in Gotham knows it himself. Gordon was
on the scene at the Waynes' murder, even then a decent man
refusing to be swallowed by corruption.
For a loner,
Batman sure does need people, but again, the script leaves
that up to viewers to interpret. No ideas get heavy-handed
treatment, unlike earlier films that made sure you knew
what Burton thought about his caped crusader. Instead, we
get fine actors showing real emotion and connection.
Michael Gough, Michael Caine understands the real love that
Alfred Pennyworth has for his young charge, but this film
actually gives Caine something to work with. It's not just
a tie to Bruce, but to Thomas that keeps Alfred around.
The same goes for Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), a long-time
employee of Wayne Enterprises who remembers what Thomas
Wayne stood for and helps outfit Batman without asking questions.
way," Freeman dryly comments, "if anyone asks, I don't have
to lie." Sure, he figures it all out, but we only know by
the veteran actor's twinkle.
At the center
of it all stands Bale, providing a star-making turn. Okay,
his fans will argue he always has been, but after Batman,
everyone will know who he is. They should. He has long been
a great actor, and he sacrifices none of that to play a
man dressed up as a bat.
Bale pulls off
the tricky bit of playing feckless out of costume while
still making it clearly an act. In one scene, he joins some
wealthy friends in dissecting Batman's motivations, and
as he listens, his mask drops for just an instant when he
registers that some think he may be insane.
Once the cowl
comes on, Bale plays a lot more range than any of his predecessors.
Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer were almost all business;
George Clooney couldn't stop bobbing his head. Bale's Batman
has rage, a desire to strike terror into the hearts of criminals.
But sometimes, he allows that it might be kind of cool and
fun to be the Bat. Certainly, it's cooler for him than being
almost believe he actually has a passion for the obligatory
love interest in this film, Assistant District Attorney Rachel
Dawes (Katie Holmes). She plays tough and holds her own in
the powerhouse cast, but fans also know that she must disappear
in favor of Harvey Dent in the future.
And there should
be a future. Nolan and Goyer have been playing it coy, but
they have taken their title to heart. In this film, Batman
begins, and only begins. He has a world of hurt waiting
for him, something Jim Gordon points out to him. The creators
have also set this up so we believe it does not exist in
As fine as Sam
Raimi's two Spider-Man films have been, they give the strange
sensation of everything stopping dead for three years in
those characters lives between films. With Batman Begins,
we won't get to see everything, but we know the madmen are
plentiful. Heck, Goyer even threw in minor (but creepy)
villain Mr. Szasz, just so audiences would understand how
deep the rogues' gallery already is.
can hardly wait.
That's 5 planets and a comet. It's that good.